Clarke’s eyes opened and then shut almost immediately. After a few seconds, he slowly lifted his left eyelid open again. The light that came in was painfully bright. It was a few minutes before he could see anything but white. And when he could it wasn’t much of a help. Clarke had no idea where on earth he was. Literally, where on the earth.
He was aware, shortly after coming to, that he was on a beach. He felt the sand clinging to his body and the water to his clothes. A dull heat radiated off his bare skin and he could tell he was burnt. He had been cooking in the sun all morning.
With a wince of pain, Clarke dug his elbows into the sand and used the leverage to help lift his head. From his back, he looked out at the ocean. Frames of memory reeled across the front of his mind, skipping and jumping like a video trying to buffer. He saw rain, waves, and lightning. He remembered being on a ship with the rest of his expeditionary crew. The ship had been small, a fisherman’s boat they’d hired to take them from the mainland to the island.
He was on the island.
The waves in front of him were calm, softly rolling in from the deep. But he knew they had not been so last night. He remembered the storm. He remembered panic. He remembered plunging into waves that were choatic and hard.
He was on the island and their ship had been wrecked in the storm.
Clarke forced his body into a sitting position, becoming surer of where he was and how he arrived there. He began to scan the beach, looking for any signs of his crew or debris from their vessel. There were none. The only things on the beach were himself and his pack. The beat of his heart quickened in surprise when he saw that his satchel was next to him. Upon picking it up he discovered that, although it was as soaked in ocean water as he was, it was still sealed shut.
He proceeded to open the bag and found all of his gear remained intact. In the main pocket were matches, a compass, three bottles of water, water purification tablets, a first aid kit, and a few granola bars. Supplies he carried in case of emergencies like being lost but not like being stranded. The GPS in the side pocket was, predictably, destroyed. Of everything in the pack, the only item to remain dry was his journal. He took it out of a smaller, interior pocket and inspected it. The pen he’d clipped to the cover was gone but an envelope held its place in the middle of the notebook.
Clarke put the journal back into his satchel and remained sitting for couple more minutes, staring out at the ocean. His mind saw the reality of the situation but shock prevented him from attaining any sort of grasp on it. Shock also blocked from him the realization that his journal may contain some of the answers he needed. A realization that would not come to him until it was too late.
Eventually, he hoisted himself to his feet and gave his body a once over. No cuts or bruises. No wounds at all. He put his satchel on his shoulder and turned around. Where the beach ended, a jungle began. Although the sun was high in the sky, holding a position that indicated to Clarke it was still morning, the light disappeared a few yards into the thick vegetation. Peeking above the canopy formed by the trees was a mountain that constituted the center of the island. However, Clarke knew it was not a mountain, but a volcano. Knowledge he’d no doubt gained via the extensive research he performed before undertaking any expedition.
Looking back at the water, he noticed he was farther up the beach then would be expected. Waves met sand nearly fifty yards away and the jungle started twenty yards from where he stood. Clarke came to the conclusion that he’d dragged himself out of the surf though he did not remember it. Regardless, he was glad he had the presence of mind to crawl to safety. Based on his assumptions on the time of day, he calculated that the high tide had only receded an hour earlier. Apparently, his research had also saved him from being dragged back out to sea.
It took a while for Clarke to overcome the shock of his situation. By early afternoon, after finally managing to get his thoughts organized, he started laying out the steps he would take to survive. If he’d learned anything over the many expeditions he’d taken it was that, in an emergency situation, one should go step by step. Set a goal, complete it, and move on to the next one. His first mission would be to create a fire large enough to work as a smoke signal.
He cracked open one bottle of water and realized how thirsty he was as the liquid entered his mouth. He quickly had a second goal. Find a source of fresh water.
Clarke opened his eyes to a sunrise painted in various hues of orange and pink. It was his third day on the island. Despite the subdued nature of the sun’s presence the headache that appeared the night before had only grown worse. Each pounding throb creating a red flame in the periphery of his vision.It was dehyrdration. He needed to find water.
He’d tried to conserve what he had but the heat and humidity were constantly strangling all the fluids out of him. By the end of the first day, he’d drank two of his three bottles of water. He’d spent the second day doing his best to ration the remaining 16 ounces. It only lasted half the day. He did manage to get a fire going, however, and it was still creating large pillows of black smoke. Surely, the clouds would be impossible for the many fisherman of the mainland to miss if they were to travel in the direction of the island.
Clarke backed his way out of a small lean-to constructed from dead tee branches and large, leathery leaves. The lean-to itself sat several feet inside the interior of the jungle while the signal fire blazed on the beach directly in front of it. The brush around the shelter had been cleared out, forming a circle of space nearly thirty feet in diameter. Various flat and long stones sat on the ground throughout the area which Clarke had placed there in the anticipation of using them to prepare his food.
Unlike his water, the granola bars from his satchel lasted him until dinner the previous night. Due to this, he’d not searched extensively for any wildlife in the jungle or fish in the sea. Regardless, he found it strange that in all his time exploring for water, nearly a day and a half, he had not seen one animal. Swimming in the ocean turned up similar results as he’d not seen a single fish. As such, the only food on his stones was the few edible plants he stumbled across. He supposed he was lucky to have that.
Food was obviously low but Clarke was well aware that water would be more important for his survival. His first goal of the day was to continue looking for a stream or spring. On day one he’d briefly searched the area surrounding his base camp while collecting materials for the lean-to. On the second day, he’d branched out, following the beach a ways up the western side of the island and entering the jungle there. Again, he had no luck.
Although he was becoming desperate, Clarke dreaded returning to the cramped environment of the jungle. So far, he hadn’t run into anything particularly worrying. But whenever he ventured into the damp darkness he became confused and lost amongst the trees. Most of the time he felt as if he was going in circles and with no significant landmarks to guide his path that’s most likely what he was doing. It had taken him hours to return to the beach the last time. Yet, he had no choice if he planned on surviving so he prepped himself to embark on another, seemingly hopeless, search. After eating a quick, light breakfast and throwing more leaves on the fire, Clarke grabbed his satchel and headed back into the jungle.
The previous night, after he’d returned to the beach around dusk, he stopped to briefly admire the peak of the volcano in the center of the island. The sun’s rays were disappearing behind the horizon and the volcano was set against a deep, dark, blue sky. He saw mist, rising from the canopy of the jungle, and within that mist he thought he also saw smoke, rising from the mouth of the volcano. While he slept, he’d dreamed he had climbed the massive mountain. He struggled to reach the top and when he did his vision was engulfed in suffocating fumes. He could sense the ground beneath his feet expanding and contracting as if the volcano was breathing. He neared the lip of the summit and voices rose from the lava below, chanting unintelligible words. Suddenly, the contents of the volcano exploded outward, carrying him with them. The lava was orange and pink like sky he’d awoken too.
Through the few spaces in the canopy Clarke saw no smoke coming from the volcano. As usual, it looked more like a mountain.
Compared to the other days the jungle was uncharacteristically cool. The reprieve from the sun eased his headache and he found that there was abreeze, blowing in from the ocean, which he had not felt on the beach. It was as if the trees had grown higher and the shrubbery on the forest floor had shrunk creating a feeling of openness that had not been there before.
With a new sense of rejuvenation, Clarke set about deciding which direction he wanted to walk. Observing the scenery around him he began to recognize pieces of the jungle for the first time. He remembered the tree to his left from the first time he’d ventured from the beach. The way the trunk split into two different directions, one branch hanging low, the other erupting upwards to join the canopy above, was unmistakable. To his right, farther ahead, was a medium sized boulder he also recognized. A streak of black, speckled with golden flakes, charred a mark across the stone’s surface. Where did he recognize it from? He’d never gone that direction before. At the moment, it did not matter to Clarke and he headed passed the stone and further into the island.
Beyond the boulder he found that the branches in his way were far less restricting allowing him to quickly and smoothly brush through them. He tried to keep his path as straight as possible so as not to lose his way. Determined to find water he continued deeper and deeper into the jungle. Slowly, the ground began to rise in a slight incline, marking the beginning of the volcano. Clarke came across another tree he inexplicably recognized. This one was particularly snarled and its branches twisted grostequely around each other. He reached a hand out to touch the smooth bark. He ran his fingers along one of the branches, admiring the way it cooperated with the others. He felt the renewal of a cool, relaxing breeze and listened to the rustling of the leaves above him. He heard the ripples of water.
Following the gurgling noises, Clarke came upon a steep embankment just behind the tree. He traversed the steep decline into a ravine and, at the very bottom, discovered a small brook. It was certainly no stream but a solid flow of water leaked over the stones heading in the direction of the beach. He crouched to his knees and opened an empty water bottle. Reflections of light that managed to penetrate to the forest floor glittered off the water’s surface and rode the miniature waves it into the plastic container. The bottle filled surprisingly quickly and he chugged the contents even quicker. The water was cold on his tongue and chilled his entire body as it slipped down his throat. He dipped his hands into the brook and splashed refreshment over the dry skin of his face.
Clarke shifted his attention to his surroundings. He thought he might place a mark at the top of ravine and create a trail of some sort to ensure he would be able to locate the brook again. But he planned to do neither. He was, for the first time, confident he’d be able to remember the path he’d taken. Besides, the gnarly tree would work as a good enough marker should he really need one. He refilled the bottle in his hand as well as the other two and returned them to his satchel.
A cracking branch split the otherwise soft sounds of the jungle. To Clarke’s ears it had come from over the opposite side of the ravine.
He’d started to think that he was the only living creature on the island. He had not spotted one animal, not even a fish in the ocean. Excited at the propsect that he was mistaken, Clarke climbed the embankment as quietly as he could and peeked over the edge. No movement save the sway of leaves caught in the breeze. He looked left, his gaze following the ravine uphill. The stream flowed down from out of sight and he imagined the ravine must lead up to a spring or body of water. He wanted to follow it but instead crested the incline and continued in the direction of the sound. A dozen steps from the top of the ravine he reached the edge of the jungle and found himself standing in a small field. Grass grew throughout its expanse and the sun shined brightly down on him.
He froze. He watched the waist high grass for movement and scanned the field for wildlife. The breeze abruptly stopped and the jungle settled into still silence. Something caught his eye.
Across the field, within the trees, and floating just above the grass was a face. Its eyes were yellow, its skin covered in mud. It stared at Clarke, slowly gliding across the tips of the grass, moving from right to left. A second face appeared, right behind the first.Their motion ceased, and the face’s rose to match Clarke’s height. Their eyes met his.
The faces dropped out of sight. The grass at the far end of the field began to rustle and he saw the two black forms moving swiftly towards him.
Clarke turned and ran back to the ravine. His mind spun in a thoughtless panic but he continued to the edge and slid down the embankment. He popped back to his feet as he reached the stream and followed the ravine in the direction of the beach. The walls on either side of him, built from dirt and rock, slowly shrank in size as he went. The stream below him grew weaker and weaker. The light in front of him grew stronger and stronger. The water disappeared into the ground a few feet before Clarke burst through a bundle of vines and onto the beach.
To his right, a mere twenty yards away, was his base camp.
Lost and Found
Clarke could not tell if he was awake or if he was dreaming. He stared into the back of his eyelids. He rolled his body to the left, brushing against the side of the lean-to. The jungle was growing noisier. He heard twigs snapping and leaves rustling. He could not tell if the sounds came from the inside or the outside of his head. He wasn’t sure it mattered as the result was the same. After each crack of a branch he imagined the yellow eyed, mud covered faces from the field floating in the darkness that encircled his camp.
He opened his eyes and stared into the ceiling of his shelter. The noises ceased. He mustered the courage to peak out of the lean-to. Waves fell lazily onto the sand. A cool breeze followed them. He crawled out of his lean-to, stood up and walked a circle around the camp. He must have been dreaming.
He made his way onto the beach. His head twitched around and he looked into the jungle, studying every dark corner and expecting to see the faces studying him. He saw only shadows. No yellow eyes. But still he thought he could feel the pressure of their gazes pressing against him as he turned back towards the ocean.
He lost himself in the push and pull of the water and in the soft rush of wind rolling off his face. He thought of home. He thought of his work. He almost made the connection then, almost thought of his journal. But another thought forced its way to the front of the line.
He cast his eyes behind him, finding the volcano at the foreground of a star filled sky. Smoke drifted out from its crater and, this time, there was no mist to hide the plumes of grey. The breeze eased out of existence and the sounds of the ocean were put on mute.
First they were low, the voices, more like murmurs than chants. But they steadily rose in volume. They were coming from far within the island almost as if they were accompanying the smoke on its way forth from the volcano. Their volume leveled and though they were not loud Clarke could hear them clearly. Chanting in a tongue he did not understand. A tongue he’d never heard before.
The chant consisted of the same phrases being repeated over and over again. Soon their words were all Clarke could hear and even his inner voice was drowned by the chorus. Slowly, the volume began to reduce again. The number of voices diminishing until it seemed like there was only one left chanting. The voice dropped to a whisper. The last words it spoke came from over Clarke’s shoulder. He spun wildly towards the voice but he saw only the beach and the sea and a strong breeze brought the sounds of the ocean rushing into his ears and his inner monologue founds its own voice again.
Clarke stood in the same spot for some time, listening to himself try and explain away what had just occurred. Facing away from the jungle he was reminded again of the feeling of eyes on the back of his head . He placed his gaze on his feet, walked up the beach to his camp, and crawled into the lean-to. He finally fell asleep. The next morning he could not tell what had been dream and what had not.
The white hot sun was well into the sky by the time he managed to get himself going. The first thing he did was stoke the bonfire. The second was take stock of his remaining food and water. He saw he’d need to make another trip to the stream. He was not very eager to do so. His food was low too and he was forced to finish the last of it for breakfast.
He could not shake his feeling of idleness, hesitation, dread. He put off getting water and sat on the beach and listened to motion of the waves. He mulled over the appearance of the faces in the jungle and the experience he’d had the previous night. Two possibilities revealed themselves to him. One, he was hallucinating. He believed that this was a decent possibility. He was malnourished and dehydrated. The face he’d seen and the voice he’d heard fit this diagnosis nicely. Despite that, he could not ignore the second possibility. There were others on the island. This brought to mind many questions. How could they survive without a substantial source of food? Why did they not make themselves known to him? Where did they…
He remembered his journal.
Clarke rushed to the lean-to, reached in, and pulled out his satchel. Inside was a full bottle of water he’d filled the day before, the wrappers from his granola bars, his box of matches, and the water purification tablets he hadn’t bothered to use. He poured these items out and found the zipper for the inner pocket. Once opened, he found the pocket empty.
He swept through the backlogs of his jumbled and chaotic memories. None of them included a report on him removing the journal. Not since the first day he awoke on the beach. Had he removed it from the satchel and forgotten? The last twenty-four hours had been less than clear to him. But there was something there. He could have dropped it in the jungle the previous day at the stream. In his excitement at finding water or during his panicked run back to camp it could’ve easily tumbled from his pack. In fact, he did not remembering closing the satchel after placing his water bottles inside.
Now that he remembered the existence of his journal he felt an insatiable need to discover the answers to his questions. The journal itself was where he recorded all of his research in preparation for any expedition. It may not explain some of the stranger events he’d experienced but it would tell all he needed to know about the island. Including whether or not it was inhabited.
After sweeping the area around his camp, just to be sure, he decided he would retrace his steps along the ravine. He needed to refill his water bottles anyway and it only made sense to keep an eye out for the journal on the way.
He used the same entrance he’d escaped from the day before. The vines were still parted where he’d exited onto the beach. It took him longer than he expected to find the beginning of the stream. As he followed the water, the ravine began to grow on either side of him and he soon found himself walking at the bottom of a ten foot deep ditch. The geographical feature was curious to him. It may have, at one time, been the bed of a large river but that seemed unlikely as it would have to flow from a significantly large body of water. It was almost like the ravine was man made. Dug to help create the stream, maybe.
By mid-day he reached the spot he’d been in the day before. So far, there was no sign of his journal. He filled his bottles, thinking over what to do next. He thought he would walk back to camp on the top of the ravine. The high vantage point would help make the brown, moleskin book easier to spot. He climbed the steep incline and recognized the gnarled, twisted tree from the last time he’d seen it. He changed his course of action. Instead of following the stream he chose to follow the path he’d walked through the jungle a day earlier.
When he was within a few yards of the tree he saw something fluttering against the bark on the opposite side of a particularly deformed limb. He rounded the trunk and realized it was a piece of paper tacked to the tree with an arrow head. It was a page from his journal.
Myths and Sentinels
Dr. Clarke Wilson: Expeditionary Journal. Island of Libris.
The Island of Libris, located off the coast of XXXXX, has been a subject of interest for me for quite some time. A few of my peers, namely Dr. Jasmine Croft, have also expressed a curiosity towards the mysterious location and, as such, some research has already been done on the matter. From what I’ve gathered, it seems no one from the outside world has stepped foot on the beaches of Libris for hundreds of years. The natives of the mainland, mostly composed of fisherman, refuse to go anywhere near the place. They’ve said this is because there are no fish in the area but their extravagant myths suggest otherwise.
Over the years (the records go back only as far as the late 19th century and are inconsistent at best) there have been multiple ship wrecks in the area. Two expeditions meant to explore the island, a number of merchant vessels, and one or two desperate fisherman have all met their fates in the water surrounding Libris. The locals attribute these wrecks to the nature of the island as well as its inhabitants.
One major aspect of the legend regards the volcano that rises from the center of the island. It has no official name but amongst the fisherman of the region it is known as the Northern Sentinel. The myths appear to claim that there is some kind of magnetic force that is expelled from the volcano which draws all forms of life towards its crater. To those who believe these fairytales, this explains the ship wrecks that occur near the island as well as the lack of fish in the ocean off its coasts. Multiple witness accounts have been discovered detailing the experiences of fisherman who have come within eyesight of the shore. Many of them claim to have seen fish, who have washed or leaped ashore, lining the beach where the tribe that inhabits Libris gathers them in baskets.
It is stated that the tribe on the island, who have garnered the name of Terra Tribus (or Terra Homines which roughly translates to tribe/men of the earth), paints their body with mud so as to maintain their connection with the power of the Northern Sentinel. While these accounts cannot be confirmed, they claim that the few souls to have seen members of the tribe on the shore of the island believed them to be covered in a dark brown substance they assume is mud, dirt, or sand.
However, besides these misguided myths and unsubstantiated accounts there is little, if any, real information regarding the Island of Libris and the Tribe of the Earth. I will continue to search for any sources containing information on Libris though I doubt I will find anything substantial. Regardless, my team and I have already begun to plan our expedition and we hope to launch sometime next year. If we take any longer I fear Jasmine may have the chance to launch her own expedition first.
Post Script: Precautions have been set against the possibility of outsiders visiting the island due to the risk of spreading disease to the inhabitants. This will make visiting the shores of the island quite difficult. Yet, I will do all I can to ensure that my team and I are the first to step foot on Libris. In the end, it is clear that contact with the outside world can only serve to help this isolated tribe.
Images, feelings, and sounds bombarded Clarke’s mind. He saw the boat again and the fisherman who captained it. A small, dark skinned man who took payment readily but, as they approached the island, wanted nothing more than to turn back. Clarke could hear the warnings the man had given in broken english, “we go too close, we not come back.”When the storm began, the captain had begged to return but Clarke had threatened to take his money back from him. He should have listened to the man.
Memories he’d already uncovered passed before him, as well. Only now they were clearer, more like film than images. The boat jolting in every direction, being thrown up and down by the waves. Lightning splitting the sky overhead and thunder shaking his skull. Grasping for the rail of the boat and sliding overboard as the ship flipped on top of him. Suffocating pressure, salt stinging his eyes, the ship disappearing beneath the surface.
Clarke was convinced their goal had only been to observe the island from the boat. To get close but not disembark onto the beaches. He believed he would not have set foot on the island without proper approval and preparation.
He folded the sheet of journal paper and placed it into the pocket of his satchel the journal used to occupy. He could see the basis for the myths the locals held about the island. In a way, they made sense. It explained the lack of wildlife on the island, the lack of fish in the ocean, and the faces he’d seen in the jungle but that did not make the fairytales of the mainland culture true. They were right on one count though as there were certainly people on the island. And they clearly knew he was there. They’d seen him, possibly well before he’d seen them. They’d taken his journal.
He wondered why, out of all his supplies, broken GPS included, they had taken his journal. Clarke was certain they could not understand it. He wondered if their culture had even developed a written language. Yet, they seemed to understand what the book represented. The strange way they had tacked a single page to the tree seemed to confirmed that. It was not even the first page of the journal. Though it was the first page in which he specifically mentioned his research and desire to visit Libris.
He halted the path of his thoughts. Of course they did not comprehend what was written on the page. They had chosen it at random. They were using it to make contact. Now it was up to Clarke to figure out how to do the same.
He glanced past the tree, across the ravine, and towards the field where he’d seen the faces of two Terra Homines, men of the earth. He figured that would be the best place to find any of the tribesmen. But he’d have to prepare first. He had no clue as to the nature of the tribe or their customs. He wished they’d return his whole journal so he could go through all of the research he’d done.
For the time being, there was nothing he could do. So he tracked his way through the jungle, heading back to camp. The feeling of being watched returned to him and he was afraid that, if he looked back, he’d see yellow eyes staring back at him. Their apparent friendliness made them no less scary to look at. He arrived at his base camp well after the sun had peaked in the sky. He went to drop his satchel, but decided against it and kept it on his shoulder.
His fire was burning low and he went to place more kindling onto it and his eye caught a dark form laying on the edge of the pit. It was furry and covered in blood. Just out reach of the flames, the dead squirrel had been placed on a rock. It was quite plump for living on an island that seemed to hold no real sustenance for it.
Clarke’s stomach was full for the first time since he’d left the mainland. The squirrel, which he’d roasted over the fire, had been delicious. It’d taken him quite a while to skin the animal, as he had no knife and was forced to use a sharp rock instead, but once he had the rodent rotating on a spit above the flames the smell had been intoxicating. He wondered why they did not serve squirrel in every restaurant.
He finished eating around sunset and, after setting aside his leftovers for the following day, he laid out on the beach. His back sinking into the sand, Clarke stared up at the stars. There were more in the sky than he could ever remember seeing before and while the waves washed over his feet he traced constellations with his finger. The salted air blew in from open-ocean and he was surprised to find his body relaxing. Naturally, his thoughts quickly spoiled the feeling as they reminded him of the situation.
To avoid the inevitable hopelessness pressing in, Clarke turned to deducing how he would return the gestures the, so called, Men of the Earth had extended towards him. As well as how he would manage to establish some kind of communication with them.
The message the tribesman had left was clear enough.
Here is something you need, give us something we need.
Like most tribes in history, the Terra Tribus formed their allegiances around relationships that proved to be mutually beneficial. At least, that was Clarke’s best guess. By giving him back his journal, the tribe was sending forth an invitation of friendship. To accept that invitation Clarke had to return the favor by giving them something they wanted. Hopefully, in the eyes of the tribe, that would prove Clarke a worthy ally.
Yet, his understanding of the tribe’s culture was built on assumptions. He was sure his theory was at least somewhat accurate but every tribe seemed to have a different set of rules regarding the creation of such a relationship. If he was not careful, he may accidentally insult or offend the Men of the Earth and there was no telling how they might respond. After much deliberation, Clarke decided he would have to base his approach to the situation off of the way the tribe had interacted with him.
He would keep his distance, make an offering, and await their response.
As far as what offering he would leave, Clarke was stumped. He had nothing that the tribe did not already have or could not obtain on their own. Except, he did have something the tribe could never have, or obtain, or even desire. He had something the recluses of Libris were unaware existed.
He rose from the sand and returned to his lean-to, where he dug through his satchel and removed his broken GPS. He set the device down on a rock in the clearing that formed his camp. Darkness was wrapped around the jungle but his small cooking fire was close enough to cast its light in front of him. Of course, the GPS had been ruined when Clarke had fallen into the ocean, but he doubted if the tribesman would mind. All they would see is a futuristic device beyond their comprehension.
The elements of his plan began to form and weave amongst themselves. By giving them the GPS, he would not only suggest his technological superiority but he would accept their invitation by gifting them an object they would not otherwise have. There’d be no harm in the action, either, as he would not be exposing them to the outside world because the damned device didn’t even work. Confident there were safeguards in place, he acted through the encounter.
He would use the field in which he first saw the Men of the Earth as a place to set up the encounter. After ensuring he could be seen from the jungle, he’d walk to the middle of the grassy expanse where he’d set down a stone, then place his offering on top. He’d wait there, doing his best to appear strong yet not threatening, and when they arrived he would extend his hands and…
Preoccupied with the construction of his plan, Clarke did not notice the smoke rising from the mouth of the volcano and settling atop the canopy of the jungle. He did not notice the low chanting, either. In fact, he’d come to the understanding that this was a ritual the tribe performed nightly, in honor of the volcano. He was only partially correct. He’d not gone far enough into the island to discover the smoke of the volcano was actually ash. Each and every night, without Clarke’s knowledge, the volcano underwent a small eruption. It filled with lava and expelled the ash softly from its vents. By sunrise, the lava would be drained and the ash long carried away by the wind. It was a cycle of filling, excreting, and emptying. A cycle that created, powered, and destroyed forces Clarke could not see and was not aware he was feeling.
Clarke did not sleep at all that night. Instead, he played the anticipated encounter over and over again in his mind, until he settled on a final, imaginary narrative for the event. A narrative that ended with his acceptance and reverence by the tribe. He would be their mentor and they would help him survive. And when rescue came he would be known as the first man brave enough to set foot on Libris and the only man to befriend the Men of the Earth. He would return for a proper expedition and they would welcome him back. Slowly, he would bestow them with knowledge they’d never fathomed and he would guide them into the twenty-first century.
By the time the sun rose Clarke was brimming with hope and expectations rationalized off illusions. His satchel was packed, the GPS secure in its side pocket, and he was ready to embark.
Using memory, he followed the path he’d taken numerous times to the gnarled tree, the ravine, and the small stream. Once there, he refilled his water bottles and continued onto the field. He went directly into the middle and stamped around on the tall grass, creating a small circle akin to the one that enclosed his camp. He crushed more grass, forming several paths that lead back to the jungle. A heavy, flat stone he found balancing about the edge of the ravine was carried to the center of the field and placed inside the circle. He put the GPS on the stone and sat down. He waited and while he waited he drank water and ate his leftovers from the night before.
By noon Clarke was growing restless. He stood up and stretched, wobbling slightly in an effort to overcome the tingling sleep creeping through his legs. He wandered the perimeter of the field, whistling a tune along the way. Maybe one of the tribe would hear it. When that failed, he returned to his aesthetically ceremonial circle and started playing with the GPS, turning it over in his hands, reflecting the sunlight across the ground, and eventually watching his reflection on the screen.
He looked ragged. His beard was long and his hair was wiry. Dirt and sand littered his peeling face. He put the GPS down and went back to whistling.
It was in the late afternoon that a pair of yellow eyes finally opened within the shadows of the jungle.
Clarke spotted their appearance almost instantly. He watched them and they watched him. Seconds, minutes later a second pair of eyes appeared, followed by a third. He could not quite discern their mud covered faces but the eyes themselves shined brightly, reflecting the few shreds of light slipping through the canopy overhead. The sun kept moving, started to set, but the eyes remained still. Seeming to never blink nor leave Clarke’s face. Not once looking at the offering before him.
Suddenly, as if they’d simply closed, the eyes disappeared. Clarke tried not to move but could not resist shifting anxiously. He listened to the grass swaying with the breeze. There was no longer anyone watching and no one approached him. Just before night fell in full, he gathered the GPS and walked on a crushed grass path through the field and into the jungle.
He thought he should’ve approached the tribesman, but he had wanted to be sure they were not threatened by him or his strange device. Either they’d actually felt that way or they had been waiting on him to make the first move. However, he did not feel completely comfortable doing that, either. He only felt confident walking forward now because he was certain the men had gone. And they had. The area in which the tribesman had been standing, or floating for all Clarke knew, was empty. Empty save for another squirrel hanging from the low branch of a tree.
The forest turned black quickly as Clarke hiked the path back to his camp. Eventually, he had no light to reveal his way for the trees blocked the light of the moon and the stars. He tried to walk straight, using his memory of the area to head in the direction of the beach. He anticipated the flickering of his fire to appear before him but it never did. He tripped through the underbrush and stumbled on his hands and knees onto the beach.
The signal fire was no longer burning and its kindling was scattered over the sand and floating in the surf. Black, powdery wood was all that remained within the fire pit. Luckily, his cooking fire had been left untouched and, although the flames were low, it still burned. When Clarke looked at the base of the flames he realized why. His journal was feeding the fire. Swiftly, he grabbed a stick from the nearby wood pile and used it to fish out the notebook. Its pages were torn and burnt. Most of them crumbled and fell from the book to the ground. He looked down at their charred remains. In his peripheral vision, he spotted a flash of white illuminated by the fire.
Edges burned, but still intact, the envelope from his journal lay blown against the lean-to. Apparently, the breeze had carried it out of danger before it could be completely consumed.
Clarke was frightened. This was the first time the tribe had struck out at him. Had he done something to anger them? They’d seen him in the field and instead of approaching they’d wrecked his fire, destroyed his journal. They wrecked the item they’d used to make contact with him. But they left him another squirrel. What did that mean?
Clarke’s mind searched for answers. Perhaps they felt betrayed by his desire to contact someone off the island. If he truly wanted to ally with them he would not be seeking to leave. It made sense that such an action would offend the tribe. He could not blame the Men of the Earth for believing he only wished to befriend them so he could use them to survive.
With the moon well into the sky, the low chanting began, pluming forth from the mouth of the volcano. This time, Clarke heard it loud and clear. However, it sounded different. Every other time Clarke heard the voices they seemed to be traveling towards him until it was as if they were coming from right beside him. On this occasion they stayed in the distance and he could hear only their echoes. They beckoned him to join the ceremony.
A revelation hit him then. The Men of the Earth did not expect him to complete their relationship by giving them something they wanted. They knew he had nothing they needed. No, they were inviting him to join them. Each night they beckoned him up to the volcano and when he would not come the ceremony was brought to him. He knew not how their voices did the things they did but this time, instead of seeking him out, they urged him to seek them out.
He’d been misreading their messages. They did not say,
Here’s something you need, give us something we need.
Come to us and we will give you what you need.
He’d offended them by trying to contact the outside world so they destroyed his connection to it. Yet their offer still stood.
Clarke walked over to the lean-to and picked up the envelope. Only the top left corner had been touched by the flames. He tucked it into his satchel. If the canopy of the jungle permitted, he would use the light of the moon to read it on his hike up to the volcano.